Red Bull Stratos Mission Control: Not a Bad Template

Today, let’s take a look at 5 key considerations in the development of a digital mission control center. You didn’t think that it was going to be as easy as throwing a few monitors and monitoring tools together, did you? It’s a good start, but if you want to do it right, make sure that you follow these five guidelines (or at least give them some thought).

1. Let purpose be your guide.

We’ve talked about this before, but it bears bringing up again: don’t back yourself into a shiny-object-syndrome corner. You aren’t investing resources in a state of the art digital mission control center for the sake of having a state of the art digital mission control center. Instead, give some serious thought to what you hope to accomplish with it. Let purpose be your guide. And by purpose, we mean value, utility, benefits, advantages. The two most important questions driving the development of a digital mission control center are “how will this make us a better at (insert whatever you want here)?” and “how will we incorporate this into our day to day business processes?”

2. Move beyond buzzwords like “monitoring.”

The purpose of a digital mission control centers is rarely just to “monitor” the internets. Dig deeper: Why are you monitoring social channels? Why are you monitoring mentions of your brand or products? To what end? What do you intend to do with the information you uncover? This brings us from purpose to function. Monitoring digital channels without some follow-up function is pointless. You have to think beyond the obvious. What business functions does monitoring ultimately serve?

First, think about the monitoring piece as the first in four phases of action: Discovery. Reporting. Analysis. Response.

Second, think about whom the reporting would be geared towards. It depends on the type of information discovered, right? Here are a few examples:

Can your monitoring of digital channels help a product marketing team track reactions to a new product they just released?

Can your monitoring of digital channels help an online reputation/crisis management team spot a problem early enough to keep it from  snowballing into a full scale PR crisis?

Can your monitoring of digital channels help a consumer insights team measure changes in sentiment towards certain products, features and product trends?

Can your monitoring of digital channels help your HR department identify potentially dangerous social media behaviors in some of your employees that could be curbed through internal training?

Can your monitoring of digital channels help your marketing department adjust the tone, frequency and message of a digital campaign?

Can your monitoring of digital channels help your community management team and customer service department effectively address customers and potential customers’ questions and concerns in real time?

These are just some of the things that should drive the development of a digital mission control center. Monitoring is only the first step. Make sure it plugs in with steps 2, 3 and 4: reporting, analysis and reaction.

3. Plan for scale.

Understand the importance of your digital mission control center to the entire organization. Do this early. At first, your control center may just be three or four screens sitting in a cubicle with one person managing the monitoring function. Invariably, you will reach a place where the mission control center will outgrow the cubicle and require its own room. More likely than not, the three or four screens will quickly turn into six to eight. Instead of one person managing this, you will likely have two or three. Before long, your mission control center will grow again. Plan for it.

Take a look at mature mission control centers (NASA and CIA are good places to start). What you will see are walls of screens and rows of desks with their own banks of screens and controls. If you are a small company, you may not ever reach that kind of scale, but of you are a national or a global brand, before long, that is what you will be replicating. Same with digital agencies: if you intend to offer monitoring services for more than one or two clients, you will need to hardware-up and build capacity.

In item #2 (above), we touched on the breadth of departments that should be (and will be) leveraging your digital command center: PR, marketing, product management, customer service, community management, tech support, business development, etc. Hold that thought for about thirty seconds. Tip: you won’t need to hire “digital monitoring experts” to fill those rows of seats. Ideally, you will assign at least one person from each of those departments to be a part of that monitoring, reporting, analysis and reaction team.

Note that once it reaches a certain size, someone will need to manage workflow, coordinate collaboration, and ensure that your digital mission control center is working at 100% efficiency at all times. This person must be senior to the rest of the team and own every aspect of the mission control center’s operations. The most complex piece of this scale puzzle may actually be the selection of this individual, as the ideal qualifications and temperament for the role may be a bit of a puzzle for HR managers at first.

4. Plan for new collaboration and approval processes.

We aren’t talking about breaking down silos between departments, but we are talking about building doorways and windows connecting them all in real time. This isn’t a pipe dream. It’s an operational reality. With real time data and insights coming in in real time, and the ability to also respond to threats and opportunities in real time, the nature collaboration between departments that may otherwise be siloed outside of the mission control center changes. With PR, marketing, customer support and community management working side by side as a team, new types of processes (internal to the command center structure and external as reporting, analysis and approvals radiate outward and back) need to be established. That also means fresh tactical training for much of your staff, based on the new requirements of their roles.

This isn’t complicated or expensive, but it is necessary. And yes, building these new processes and establishing new best practices across your organization will considerably improve its reaction times and overall effectiveness.

5. Consider your monitoring, collaboration, analysis and management software carefully.

Again, let function and purpose be your guide. It doesn’t matter how pretty a piece of software is or how many Fortune 500 brands already use it. If a less sexy, less well known piece of monitoring or data visualization software helps you do your job better, then go with that one. Substance first. Flash second.

The selection of the software you will use in your command center should be the first subject of collaboration between command center team members. You don’t ever want to find yourself in a position where a digital team forces their choice of software on a PR department or digital customer service representative. Collaborate. Discuss everyone’s specific needs. Share information on new digital tools. Test. Experiment. Repeat. Seek to continuously improve your team’s capabilities by improving on the current model.

In mature (large) digital mission command centers, you may find that twenty to thirty types of software are required to allow everyone to do their jobs properly. Big community screens may focus on macro views of what is happening across all channels while individual monitors focus on what individuals need to do. A community manager may be working almost exclusively with a Radian 6 or Spiral 16 dashboard, while a CSR might have a Hootsuite or Tweetdeck tab open alongside his CSR software. A business development manager may be using Tickr to overlay sales data, inbound call data and mentions of the brand right alongside a Google analytics dashboard. As a particular event (like a possible PR crisis or a campaign launch) becomes a priority, the mission control center’s team lead may choose to dedicate the large community screens to information relating to that event and thereby change the team’s focus for a specific interval. The specificity of certain types of monitoring and response software will obviously play a key role in this process.

We’ll have more pro tips on the way. Until then, we hope what we shared with you today will help.

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Cheers,

The Tickr Team